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Red Army Faction

Red Army Faction

LEADERS: Gudrun Ensslin, and Andreas Baader

YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1978

ESTIMATED SIZE: 10-20

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: West Germany (now Germany)

OVERVIEW

The Red Army Faction (RAF), or Rote Armee Fraktion, is a terrorist organization that is known to have targeted various government and business entities in Germany in the late 1970s and 1980s. Throughout this period, the group reportedly carried out numerous terrorist activities in Germany. As thought by analysts and monitor groups, the group has been inactive since the mid 1990s.

The Red Army Faction is also known as Baader-Meinhof Gang and Baader-Meinhof Group. As of 2005, the group has been excluded from the U.S. State Department Terrorist organizations list.

HISTORY

Although the Red Army Faction was claimed to have formed in 1978, its roots can be traced back to the late 1960s, according to published reports. During the 1960s, there were wide-ranging student protests in Germany, especially in the city of Berlin. The protests were reportedly in opposition to the Vietnam war as well as the aggressive tactics employed by the West German police.

Following the protests, a few German students, including Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader, claimed to have formed the Baader-Meinhof Group. According to some analysts, the group was originally named the Red Army Faction. However, the name was never used until the late 1970s. During this period, members of the Baader-Meinhof Group are known to have targeted several West German business and political entities, as well as U.S. military targets.

As thought by analysts, the Baader-Meinhof Group, following the arrest of several leaders, started losing steam by the mid 1970s. A few original members of the group committed suicide. The group was allegedly dissolved in 1977. Monitor groups state that the remaining members of the Baader-Meinhof Group formed the Red Army Faction in 1978, claiming to follow the same ideologies and philosophies as the Baader-Meinhof Group.

In the 1980s, the RAF was held responsible for numerous bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and robberies. Some of these included the 1986 bombing of an IBM Corporation building in Heidelberg, West Germany. Government officials alleged that the attack was carried out by members of the RAF. The bombing caused significant structural damage to the building. During the same year, the West German government also accused members of RAF of shooting a manager of Siemens and his driver.

The late 1980s also witnessed a number of similar attacks, allegedly by the RAF. Among these were the bombing of Deutsche Bank chief, Alfred Herrhausen, in November 1989. On April 1, 1991, Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, leader of a West German Government organization was killed.

KEY EVENTS

1968:
Four students claim to form the Baader-Meinhof Group in West Germany.
1972:
Several leaders of the group, including Baader, Ensslin, Meinhof, Holger Meins, and Jan-Carl Raspe, are caught by the West German police.
1975:
The Stammheim Trial begins; Baader, Ensslin, and other RAF leaders are convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. This trial is considered to be the longest and the most expensive in the history of Germany.
1976:
Baader and Ensslin allegedly commit suicide in their prison cell on the same day.
1978:
Remaining members of the reportedly dissolved Baader-Meinhof Group and form the Red Army Faction.
1992:
RAF issues a public statement declaring ceasefire.
1998:
The RAF officials announces the termination of the group.

As thought by government officials and terrorism experts, the number of terrorist acts by RAF decreased by the early 1990s. Experts attribute a number of reasons for this including the decline of communism around the world and the reunification of Germany in 1990.

According to published reports, RAF made a public announcement in 1992, declaring a ceasefire against the government. Reports also suggest that the group officially announced their dissolution in 1998.

PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS

The Red Army Faction and its predecessor, Baader-Meinhof Group, are known to have a communist ideology. Terrorism experts state that the group was formed with an aim of creating separate socialist states in Germany and throughout Europe. Members of the RAF have philosophies based on communism and Marxism, which can be defined as a state without social classes. Communists propagate a classless society that is not ruled by political governments or any other form of private ownership: everything is divided equally within a society.

According to anti-terrorism experts, the RAF aimed at reducing the "oppression" and the "hardcore tactics" of the West German authorities in the 1970s and 1980s. The group's tactics were also aimed at U.S. military operations and "imperialism" around the world.

According to published reports, over the years the RAF consisted of only ten to twenty members. However, their tactics were known to be quite deadly. During the 1970s and 1980s, RAF and Baader-Meinhof allegedly carried out several bombings, political killings, kidnappings of business leaders, and robberies. These were aimed mainly at West German and American government, business, and political establishments. Reportedly, the killings and bombings were carried out in protest against what the RAF calls a "monopoly capitalism and imperialism."

Since the 1970s, the group is thought to have formed alliances with other radical and extremist organizations. One such suspected ally was Action Directe, the terrorist organization from France. U.S. and West German government officials also allege that the RAF received financial support, logistic support, training, and shelter from the intelligence agency of East Germany (this was in the 1980s before the unification of Germany). Analysts and monitor groups claim that several members of the group received training from Palestinian and other Middle Eastern terrorist organizations.

By the early 1990s, the RAF is thought to have become ineffective. The reason for this, as suggested by experts, is the decline of communism worldwide, triggered by the fall of the Soviet Union. The group officially announced that it was disbanding in 1998.

LEADERSHIP

GUDRUN ENSS LIN AND ANDR EAS BAADER

The RAF and its parent group Baader-Meinhof is thought to have had numerous leaders over the years. Analysts, however state that the founding members, Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader, were the key driving factors behind the formation and subsequent operations of the group.

Both Ensslin and Baader were thought to have strong communalist beliefs and had reportedly masterminded many of the operations of Baader-Meinhof in the 1970s. Baader and Ensslin were arrested by West German police in the mid 1970s. In 1975, Baader and Ensslin, along with other leaders of the RAF, were sentenced to life imprisonment after the Stammheim Trial—reportedly the longest and most expensive trial in German history.

Baader and Ensslin, in 1976, were found dead in their prison cells. West German officials ruled the deaths as suicide. However, supporters of the RAF allege that the two were killed by the police.

OTHER PERSPECTIVES

The West German police officials often criticized the tactics of the Red Army Faction. Most experts state that the members of the RAF followed communist philosophies. However, a few argue that the RAF had edged towards anarchism later on—opposing any action and policy by the government.

There are many who supported the student protests of the 1960s. However, they were quick to criticize the strategies employed by the RAF. A German journalist, Guenter Zint who in the past lived with Ulrike Meinhof and other radical journalists, stated in an interview with BBC that "People know that the Sixties changed Germany for the good." However, referring to the Baader Meinhof gang, he mentioned, "The resort to terrorism killed the protest movement."

SUMMARY

The Red Army Faction is known to be inactive since the late 1990s. During the 1970s and 1980s, a period when the group was thought to be at its peak, the RAF allegedly carried out a number of terrorist acts against the West German government.

Since early 1990, the group reportedly saw a decline in its activities due to the fall of communism around the world. In 1998, the Red Army Faction officially announced that it was disbanding.

SOURCES

Web sites

BBC.com. "Full Circle for German Revolutionaries." 〈http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/1250944.stm〉 (accessed October 15, 2005).

BBC.com. "German Red Army Faction Disbands." 〈http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/80960.stm〉 (accessed October 15, 2005).

BBC.com. "Germany Recalls Its 'Autumn of Terror.'" 〈http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/2340095.stm〉 (accessed October 15, 2005).

MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base. "Group Profile: Red Army Faction." 〈http://www.tkb.org/Group.jsp?groupID=163〉 (accessed October 15, 2005).

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